by  Joanna Mitzel





Like most old dogs, my 14 year old large breed dog Sal suffers from arthritis. While I’m really happy with my veterinarian’s current protocol, I wanted to explore some more alternative therapies to ensure she feels her very best. I decided to try massage and hydrotherapy to work her muscles and to simply help her feel good. Hydrotherapy is often used as part of a post-surgical rehab in a younger dog – TPLO, knee, disc surgeries, etc. Weekly sessions for two or three months often help dogs recover faster, re-strengthen their muscles sooner and reduce further injury. For older dogs, hydrotherapy offers an alternative to sometimes limited pain management veterinary options. It simply helps them feel better and can improve their quality of life. Sal and I visited Aquadog Spa in Kent, Washington. We met with owner, Cindy Hickman, LMP, SAMP for a 30 minute swim/massage session.

Cindy is a Licensed Massage Practitioner, Nationally Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, and endorsed as a Small Animal Massage Practitioner. A holistic veterinarian recommended swimming and massage for a couple of her rescued dalmations. Cindy’s dalmatian’s therapeutic success inspired a career change, and she’s been practicing for the last 14 years.



Our session began by putting Sal in a life vest. She’s not fearful of the water, but she’s also not a regular swimmer. Cindy moves super slowly and will sit with or float with a dog however long is necessary to help them get comfortable in the water. Only once did she recall a dog unwilling to get into the water with her. Cindy gently guided Sal into her ground level 14’ x 7’ swim spa. The temperature is kept between 90 and 92 degrees and is kept clean using a low level chemical sanitizer along with a UV sanitizer. Her spa also has a bathtub for dogs with skin sensitivities to rinse off or even bathe afterward.

Cindy started by simply holding Sal in the water. She tailors each session for the individual needs of the dog. Some dogs may spend most, if not all, of the session simply being held and massaged in the warm water. She works to build the right balance between massage time and swim time. She can even turn on the jets to add resistance for more advanced swimmers.

The session continued by Cindy alternating a lap around the pool with massages to her hips, back and shoulders. She successfully worked out a knot located in Sal’s upper back/shoulder area. Though we did not need them, toys are available and offered for dogs who might be lazy kickers while swimming. Sometimes if a dog will fetch, they’ll often put a little more effort into their swim kick to go after a toy.



When our ½ hour was up, Sal bounded from the pool. Whether it was the relief provided from the massage (or simply from the session being over with!) Sal seemed really happy and relaxed. After a thorough towel drying, she napped in the car ride home, and continued snoozing on the couch for the reminder of the afternoon.

I hope to continue our hydrotherapy sessions; weekly visits are often suggested to receive the most therapeutic benefit. Aquadog spa also offers massage only sessions for non-swimmers along with self-swim sessions where you can swim along with your more experienced pup. Sal and I really enjoyed our experience and when looking for additional alternative services to improve the day to day life of a senior pup, I hope you’ll consider hydrotherapy and maybe even a visit to Aquadog Spa.


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